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Mixed early trading on Wall Street

Tuesday, February 25 15:35:10

U.S. stocks fell modestly today, with investors finding few reasons to buy following a rally that took the S and P 500 to an all-time intraday high.

Both Home Depot Inc and Macy's Inc rallied following their results, but the strength in retail stocks was not enough for traders to continue pushing shares higher.

Monday's advance to record levels fully erased the S and P's biggest pullback in more than a year and raised new questions about what catalysts will drive shares decisively higher from here. While the market's upward trend is still viewed as intact, Wall Street ended below its highs on Monday, with the S&P failing to close at a record.

"We're not being aggressive, since valuations aren't spectacular here, but this certainly isn't a time to run to cash," said Rex Macey, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust in Atlanta, Georgia. "We expect we'll take two steps forward and one step back for a while."

In the latest economic data, home prices rose slightly more than expected in December, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index, though February consumer confidence fell more than expected, dropping to 78.1 from 80.7.

The confidence report was the latest in a string of economic data that came in below forecasts. While many analysts pin the weakness to harsh winter weather rather than weakening fundamentals, trading are looking for evidence the market's levels are justified.

"We're waiting to see how much of this weakness is on weather, since if the market gets spooked we could see a big pullback," said Macey, who helps oversee about $20 billion. "However, you look ahead to 2015, the market likes what it sees, so we would view any pullback as a buying opportunity."

Home Depot rose 2.5 percent to $79.81. The Dow component's earnings beat expectations, though sales fell more than expected in the fourth quarter. Macy's Inc gained 2.7 percent to $54.50 after the retailer reported a drop in January sales, though its fourth-quarter earnings rose from the prior year.

The S and P retail index rose 0.9 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 26.23 points, or 0.16 percent, at 16,180.91. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index was down 3.71 points, or 0.20 percent, at 1,843.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 10.59 points, or 0.25 percent, at 4,282.37.